In grade school, my mother used to bake for all my class parties, birthdays, and bake sales. There were cookies and cupcakes and occasionally jello. A popular favorite was her mini cheesecake cupcakes: bite-size creamy deliciousness, always with a slice of kiwi and mandarin on top.
Well, this isn’t exactly my mother’s recipe but pretty darn close. With an extra zest of lemon and replacing the kiwi and mandarin with a dollop of lemon curd, we’ve stepped up the mini cheesecake game!
At my last job in St. Louis, I would bring into the office any baked goods that I made the night before. It was awesome because I had a built in group of people to try my creations and to make sure all those goodies weren’t just sitting at home tempting me! Since I am currently not working, I used the opportunity of a friend’s birthday to try out this lemon cheesecake recipe – and I’m happy to say they were a hit!
This is an adapted recipe from the book “125 Best Cupcake Recipes” by Julie Hasson. I’ve swapped the sour cream with greek yogurt, traded in the graham crackers for Nilla wafers, and added in a cream cheese icing because you know, why not! The result is sweet but that’s why they come as miniatures!
I do want to point out that these cheesecakes need to be put in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving, to let them set and firm up. I’ve started recipes before where I didn’t realize there was chilling time needed and I’ve had plenty of late night baking sessions because of that.
The ingredients for this recipe include the cheesecake basics: cream cheese, butter, eggs, and sugar. Like I mentioned, I used greek yogurt but you can use sour cream if you’d like. Lemon zest is added into the filling for flavor instead of vanilla extract and the lemon curd is placed on top after baking. You can buy lemon curd from your local store or if you are feeling especially ambitious, you can make your own!
For the crust, I opted for Nilla wafers. I can say that it’s because it tastes better but honestly, I had some left over from a cake I made a few weeks ago and didn’t have any graham crackers 😃 But that’s how cooking and baking should be! Use what you have. Put a bunch in a ziplock bag and use a rolling pin or even just your hands to crush it up. I like to double bag it because I always end up poking holes in the ziplock and the crumbs spill out.
Once you have the crushed up Nilla wafers, mix in the brown sugar and melted butter so you create a crumble that holds together. It won’t be super sticky, but the finer the Nilla wafer pieces are, the better it will hold.
When my mom makes her cheesecake cupcakes, she actually would use Ritz crackers as the crust! No need to crush it up or mix it with anything. Just one cracker lining the bottom of each mini cheesecake. Mom’s always seem to know the tricks!
One thing that I did keep from my mom’s method is how simple it is to make the filling. Just mix the cream cheese, greek yogurt, sugar, eggs, and lemon zest together. A hand mixer, stand mixer, or even a food processor will do the job. I do think the food processor works really well at getting the mix really smooth and even.
This recipe makes a batch of 12 cupcakes, just enough for one cupcake pan. Line the pan with cupcake liners and spoon in some of the crushed up Nilla wafer crumble. About two spoonfuls should be enough. Press the mixture down to create the crust and then pour in the filling into each cup. I always use a cookie scoop for this step so that I can control how much batter is in each.
Pop that pan into the pre-heated oven set at 350°F and let it bake for 18-22 minutes. Then let them cool down in the pan for about 10 minutes before taking them out to cool completely on a rack. Don’t forget, at least 2 hours of chilling time in the fridge as well!
Now baking cheesecake is fairly easy but to bake the perfect cheesecake is trickier. If you are going for the classic cheesecake you aim for no cracks across the top. Baking them in a water bath or avoiding opening the oven while baking (no sudden temperature changes) will help with that. Over baking is also a culprit. `
As you can see, my little cheesecakes got some cracks in them – but I love them nonetheless and more importantly, they still tasted awesome. If are you particular about it, bake them for less time and watch them more closely. But I wasn’t too worried since these babies are getting covered up anyway!
If you want, you can stop here and finish off your cheesecake cupcakes with fruit or go straight for the lemon curd. But, I wanted to make more work for myself and decided to make an icing as well. 😉
It’s similar to basic cream cheese icing – butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar – but instead of butter, I used some heavy whipping cream. I don’t love overly sweet cream cheese so I like to add the sugar a half cup at a time, taste testing after each. Feel free to add more or less depending on your own taste!
As you can see, I tried topping the mini lemon cheesecakes with the lemon curd and the icing in different ways. I won’t lie, these are rich and heavy but also yummy and so good with a cup of cold milk. At least, that’s how I ate them =) Hope you enjoy these mini bites!
Lemon Curd Cheesecake Cupcakes
For the Crust
- 1 Tbsp packed brown sugar
- 3/4 cup crushed Nilla Wafers
- 3 Tbsp melted unsalted butter
For the Filling
- 12 oz cream cheese (1.5 packages) at room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup greek yogurt
- 2 eggs at room temperature
- 1 tsp grated lemon zest
For the Toppings
- Lemon curd (homemade or from grocery)
- 4 oz cream cheese (half a package) at room temperature
- 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar (or to taste)
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Put Nilla wafers into a double ziplock bag and crush it up into a crumble. Pour into a bowl, mixing in the brown sugar and melted butter until well incorporated.
- Divide wafer mix into each lined cupcake tin, pressing it down to form a crust.
- To make the filling, put cream cheese in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add in the rest of the ingredients one at a time, mixing well between each before adding the next – sugar, greek yogurt, zest, and then eggs.
- Pour the filling into each tin, on top of the Nilla wafer crust.
- Bake for 18-22 minutes until filling is set (passes the toothpick test!) If filling puffs up, it will deflate as it cools. Pull pan out and let the cupcakes sit in the pan for 10 minutes before taking the cheesecakes out to cool fully on a cooling rack.
- Chill the cheesecakes for at least 2 hours in the fridge before serving.
- To make the icing, put the cream cheese in a large bowl and beat with a hand mixer until smooth. Add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time. Add more sugar if you would like it even sweeter! Mix in the heavy whipping cream and whisk until the mixture thickens. Chill in the fridge to help firm it up.
- Once ready, top each cheesecake cupcake with a dollop of lemon curd and icing.
- Then devour!